Monthly Archives: July 2015

Boulder Creek – 07/27/2015

Time: 11:30AM – 3:00PM

Location: Seven miles up Boulder Canyon from the end of the bike path. 1.5 miles above Boulder Falls.

Fish Landed: 17

Boulder Creek 07/27/2015 Photo Album

By Monday morning my arm and shoulder were recovered from four straight days of fishing in the previous week. I was anxious to hit the streams again before the summer doldrums set in, but since I had a haircut appointment at 9AM, the destination needed to be reasonably close to Denver. I considered Bear Creek, Clear Creek, and South Boulder Creek; but I eventually chose Boulder Creek since the flows seemed lower and closer to ideal than the others. In addition I had a first hand look at the creek as we traveled along it on Sunday on our way to and from Rainbow Lakes.

On Monday I departed Denver by 10AM and drove up Boulder Canyon seven miles beyond the end of the bike path, and this also happened to be 1.5 miles above Boulder Falls. The gradient was quite steep, but I saw quite a few nice plunge pools from the car window. Also after seeing the number of fishermen in the small stream on Sunday, I assumed that the high gradient water was not as pressured, as most fishermen do not like fast steep water. As if to question the sanity of my water choice, there was a 10% grade sign along the highway.

This Sign Was Next to My Starting Point

I began with a medium olive stimulator and landed one small brown trout, but I was also frustrated by five or more refusals. While my impatience with being rejected built, I saw one yellow sally, so I tried a size 16 imitation, but that generated a couple refusals and then ceased to attract any interest at all. Perhaps I was over analyzing, so I tied on a solitary Chernobyl ant. This was a breakthrough, and I landed three small browns that craved the ant, but I probably had as many or more refusals to the large attractor terrestrial as I had hooked fish.

Typical High Gradient Section Fished

Just before lunch at 12:30, I began to see occasional PMD’s in the air. No fish were rising, but I thought perhaps nymphs were active subsurface, so I added a salvation nymph dropper to the Chernobyl. Almost as soon as I did this, a small brown crushed the salvation as soon as it entered the water. I broke for lunch at 12:30 and resumed fishing by 12:45 and managed to land two more browns on the salvation nymph. The salvation seemed to work best in riffled runs where the fish were forced to make a quick opportunistic grab.

A Very Pretty Native Brown Trout

In the slower moving deep pockets, the trout obtained a better look and refused the foam top fly.    After 30 minutes of mostly refusals, I spotted a small splashy rise along the far bank. This fish was having nothing to do with my flies, so I made a radical change and went to a size 16 light gray comparadun. I was leery of using this small hard to see fly in the fast swirly currents of the steep gradient creek, but it paid dividends. I concentrated on water with some depth where I could get a decent drag free drift, and the fish responded. I moved at a quick pace, or as fast as rock climbing would allow, and made only a few casts to likely spots.

A Light Gray Comparadun Fooled This Fish

Between 1:30 and 3:00PM I registered ten more brown trout to end at seventeen on the day. The largest fish were in the nine inch range, so nothing to brag about, but I enjoyed the mental stimulation of trying to figure out what fly and what water type would produce fish. It is always challenging to solve this puzzle on brand new water.

Plunge Pools

Arkansas River – 07/24/2015

Time: 12:00PM – 4:00PM

Location: First pullout west of Fremont – Chafee County line and upstream

Fish Landed: 9

Arkansas River 07/24/2015 Photo Album

Friday was get away day, and I was not thrilled to leave behind the wonderful Conejos River and the productive fishing that it provided on Tuesday through Thursday. But life moves on, so I woke up early on Friday morning and took all the necessary steps to break camp by 7:30. I was fortunate that the clear dry air of the upper Conejos did not produce any dew on the tent, so I was able to quickly stuff it in the sack without any concerns about moisture during storage.

My plan included a stop over on the Arkansas River to break up the return trip. When I checked the flows prior to departing for the Conejos River on Monday, the river remained at 1,000 CFS, so I hoped to experience some hot action from edge fishing before the fish spread out. Google maps indicated that the drive from Lake Fork Campground to Salida was 3.5 hours, and this proved to be very accurate. I stopped at ArkAnglers on route 50 to replace my nipper retractor that  broke on Tuesday, and while there I purchase several attractor flies for dry/dropper fishing and asked the salesperson about local stream conditions. He informed me that the flows remained at 1,000 CFS, but the river was clear until the Vallie Bridge area. I planned to fish below Salida and above Vallie Bridge, so this news did not impact me.

Armed with some new flies and stream information, I departed for the pullout at the Fremont – Chafee line, but a car with Ohio plates was parked there. I jumped out of my car to scout the river, and a single fisherman was upstream, so I executed a U-turn and drove to the next pullout when traveling west. It was overcast and cool with temperatures in the low 70’s as I donned my waders and boots. Since the Arkansas River is much larger than the Conejos, and flows were high at 1,000 CFS, I chose my Sage One five weight rod.

Near My Starting Point. Water Swamped the Willows.

I descended the steep path and then fought my way through the willows to the edge of the river. Indeed I quickly discovered the flows were high with water deluging the streamside willows a bit. I walked upstream until I reached a slower riffle of moderate depth and rigged my line with a Chernobyl ant, salvation nymph, and iron sally. The salesperson at ArkAnglers told me iron sallies were working well. On the second or third cast I landed a small brown on the salvation and then a second small brown near the top of the riffle. I was actually startled to experience such sudden success as I tossed one more cast in the middle of the riffles. In an instant the Chernobyl disappeared, and I landed a quite nice brown on the iron sally.

Best Fish of the Day Was This Brown Trout

What a start! I moved upstream and fished all the likely spots along the bank and picked up two more browns before I decided to stop for lunch. A second brown of around 12 inches grabbed the iron sally and the other brown took the salvation. It was around 1PM when I stopped for lunch, and the sun burned off the clouds, and it actually became quite warm. Before lunch I noticed several refusals to the Chernobyl, and it seemed to be distracting fish from the nymphs somewhat, so I decided to try a yellow Letort hopper. I observed the occasional golden stonefly, so I thought that perhaps the yellow body hopper with a slim profile would imitate an adult golden. It is difficult to support two relatively heavy nymphs such as the salvation and iron sally with the dubbed body Letort hopper, so I added only the salvation as a dropper.

On the first two casts I experienced refusals to the hopper, and on the second one I foul hooked the fish with the trailing salvation. The fish shot downstream, and after a few seconds the flies became disengaged and shot back above me and landed in a tree branch. I could see the hopper and salvation dangling from a dead limb, and then I bungled the situation even more when I wrapped the tapered leader around another dead tree branch separate from the first.

I put down my rod so as not to endanger it and climbed through some dense streamside willows until I reached the larger branch that held the tapered leader just below the tip of the rod. I rocked the branch a couple times and suddenly it broke free from the stump, and I was able to unwrap the first snag. Unfortunately the two flies continued to dangle high above me. I was not about to give up. My wading staff was too short to reach the hopper, but the branch I just broke down was quite long. I picked it up and used it like a jousting pole to hit the small dead branch holding the two flies, and succeeded in breaking it off on the first attempt. I picked up the small twig and unraveled the two flies, and in a short amount of time I was back in business.

I moved up a bit and cast to the middle of a short run, and as the hopper drifted back toward me I saw a swirl and set the hook. I thought the fish took the top fly, but when I managed to land it, I noticed the salvation nymph was embedded in the lip. The Letort hopper appeared to be attracting attention, but it was not exactly what the fish expected. I clipped it off and tried a yellow stimulator size 12 2XL, that I purchased at ArkAnglers as a golden stonefly imitation. This did not even generate refusals.

Maybe they were looking for yellow sallies? I tried one, but it was soundly ignored. Next I tried a solitary size 16 gray deer hair caddis. This actually generated a rise on a prospecting cast, and I added another fish to my count. By now I reached seven fish, and it was 2PM, and the sun was high in the sky, and the air temperature reached its peak. The conditions became quite challenging. The Chernobyl ant produced most effectively for me in the early going as a top fly because although it was refused, at least the fish also tuned in to the nymphs. I decided to return to my original threesome for the tough afternoon conditions.

Iron Sally in Upper Lip

I picked up my pace and did not dwell at any particular spot for long. I was particularly focused on depth along the bank, and I covered a lot of stream real estate. I landed two fish in the last two hours, and one was a decent brown of around thirteen inches that hammered the iron sally. Despite being debarbed the hook point  got stuck in the tough cartilage that forms the lip, and I had a difficult time removing the fly. Some dark clouds appeared in the western sky as 4PM approached. I was quite weary from four days of camping and fishing and the action was quite sparse, so I decided to call it quits.

I ended the day with nine fish, and a few were in the 12 -13 inch range, but it was by no means the hot edge fishing that I anticipated. Although the flows remain at 1,000 CFS, it seems the fishing has slowed a bit particularly in the middle of the afternoon when the sun is bright and the air temperatures peak. If I return to the Arkansas River, I will schedule my fishing time for the morning and evening, and do something else from 2-5PM.

Conejos River – 07/23/2015

Time: 9:15AM – 6:00PM; 30 minute lunch due to returning to the car for a camera battery issue and then 30 minutes to walk back to the car and then drive to the campground. Fifteen minutes of fishing at the campground at the end of the day.

Location: Pullout between Lake Fork Campground and the Meadows area and then upstream to the eastern/southern edge of the Meadows; 15 minutes at the campground.

Fish Landed: 24

Conejos River 07/23/2015 Photo Album

What could I do for an encore after a spectacular day of fishing on the upper Conejos River on Wednesday, July 22? First I needed to decide what segment of the river to fish on Thursday. But even before this decision, I needed to manage some fundamental camping basics. I only paid for Tuesday and Wednesday night as I hedged my stay until I determined the quality of the fishing. Wednesday’s results certainly made that decision easy, so I returned to the pay station and wrote a check for another night.

After two days in relatively warm weather, my ice supply dwindled, and it was clear that I needed to replenish in order to remain until Friday morning. I did not relish another rough 36 mile round trip to the store at the CO 250 turn off. When I was researching the campgrounds in the area on Google maps, I thought I noticed a small town near the reservoir six miles up the road. Surely there must be a source of ice in Platoro? I noticed that the campers across from me had large heavy duty spinning rods that are typically used in lakes. I suspected that they fished in Platoro Reservoir, and this probably meant that they knew if ice was available in the small town of the same name. I mentioned all this to another camper from Texas that I became acquainted with, and he inquired of my neighbors as he passed by on his return from the pump. They replied that yes, ice was for sale at the store next to the Gold Nugget Cafe in Platoro, and they in fact just bought some there themselves. My camping friend relayed this welcome information to me, and I made plans to drive to Platoro so I could be there when the store opened at 8AM.

This worked out nicely because it enabled me to scout out the river between the campground and Platoro. There was a short stretch above the public access that I fished on Wednesday evening, and then the river made a ninety degree turn and flowed through a deep valley with high banks on both sides. This segment was probably .3 mile long and when combined with the water between the public access parking lot and the large bend, it probably extended to half a mile. I also discovered that in previous trips I never went beyond the eastern end of the Meadows section, and the water near the top of the Meadows was much more interesting with many bends and deep pools.

When I returned to the camp site after replenishing my ice supply, I considered three options. My initial plan was to drive south on CO 250 beyond the camper trailer that I encountered on Wednesday. I could park in a pullout or along the road and cut across the grass bluff and drop down to the river and fish new water back up to my Wednesday entry point. Number two would be to begin at the first public access above the Lake Fork Campground and then fish the .5 miles around the bend until I reached the Meadows where my exit would be relatively easy. A third possibility was finding some nice water in the Meadows.

I knew other fishermen loved the Meadows, and I did not wish to compete for space, so I rejected that option first. I was not certain how much open water remained below the camper trailer, and I was getting farther downstream and away from the green drake hatch, so I decided to choose the water between the campground and the Meadows. Perhaps the hatches in this area were similar to the Meadows, but the high banks and difficult access would ward off other fishermen. The key to this decision however was fishing my way through the entire canyon area, because otherwise I would be required to climb the long steep bank between the river and road.

Soft Spot Behind the Rock Was Productive

I drove to the public access parking lot and found a dry spot to park where I could pull on my waders and boots without dealing with the abundance of mud. I rigged my Sage four weight and anxiously walked to the edge of the river and began fishing my way upstream. The bushy green drake performed in outstanding fashion on Wednesday, so why not present it again on Thursday? I did, and then I mimicked Wednesday even further by knotting a salvation nymph to a three foot dropper below the green drake.

Early Morning Brown from the Conejos

What a great strategy! I covered the water from the parking lot to the ninety degree bend between 9:15 and 11:00 and landed fourteen wild brown trout. Unlike Wednesday when the green drake dominated, the salvation nymph produced ten fish, while the green drake fooled four. Quite a few of the fish were once again chunky browns in the twelve to fourteen inch size range. I crossed to the opposite bank as soon as I could, as I am a proponent of fishing areas that are harder for the average fisherman to reach, and this strategy appeared to pay off in a major way. I was feeling pretty smug about my choice of water as I sat down on the bank away from the road at a very inviting area just above the large bend in the river. I tallied fourteen fish landed with the prospect of hatches and seldom fished canyon water ahead of me, and I stopped for lunch at 11AM since I wanted to avoid the Wednesday situation where the hatch commenced at 11:30 as I began to eat. This meant I had five or six more hours of fishing in front of me.

Nearly 15″ Beast Took the Green Drake

Before eating lunch I decided to snap a photo of the attractive water across from me. Unfortunately as I did this, I received a battery dead warning. This happened on previous occasions, but usually it had something to do with the replacement battery not being seated properly in the compartment. I removed it and reinserted it several times, but each time I tried to test the camera by taking a photo, the battery low icon flashed across the screen. Perhaps the battery was actually low. I decided to cross the river and hike back to the car to procure my second battery. On the return trip I drove the car to a wide shoulder pullout just below the bend so that I would be closer to my exit point at the end of the day, but the entire round trip probably used up thirty minutes of prime fishing time.

My Favoite Spot on July 23 on the Conejos

Finally I ate my lunch and resumed fishing in the wide area just west of the bend. The water looked spectacular with two nice pools side by side. I approached the nearest one first, and immediately I could see several fish at the tail. I attempted to lure the fish to my green drake and salvation nymph, and with my polarized sunglasses, I did observe some looks but no takes. I cast to these reluctant eaters for quite a while and then decided to concede victory and moved across to the larger pool closer to the dirt road that was by now quite a distance above the river. As I carefully waded across the river I noticed a few golden stoneflies, fewer green drakes, and some pale morning duns. The density of all these insects was far less than what I viewed on Wednesday.

Nevertheless the green drake was not working, so I switched to a yellow Letort hopper in an effort to emulate the golden stoneflies first. The change did not elicit a response, so I countered with a parachute green drake. This fly performed quite well in the early stages of the hatch the previous day, but other than a momentary hook up, it did not live up to expectations on Thursday. As these fly changes were taking place, a fish began to rise steadily in the swirly water where the current spilled into the pool at an angle. I gently drifted the parachute drake over the area of the rises, but it went unmolested. Why not follow Wednesday’s routine and convert to a cinnamon comparadun? That is what I did, and on the fifth cast to the water where the fish was feeding, the comparadun disappeared. I executed a swift hook set and the fight was on. This fish churned and raced and put up a stiffer battle than my large rainbow on Wednesday, but eventually I coaxed a seventeen inch chunky rainbow into my net. What a thrill! For two days in a row I switched to a cinnamon comparadun and then landed a fat seventeen inch rainbow trout, and in both instances it would be the best fish of the day and the only rainbow.

A Fine Fish

The hefty rainbow was number sixteen on my scoreboard, and I continued moving deeper into the canyon with the cinnamon PMD and increased the fish count to twenty by 1PM. My thoughts were optimistic, as I had a large chunk of remaining time and barely touched the seldom fished pockets and deep runs in the canyon area. I did not know the water was lightly pressured for sure, but it certainly seemed likely.

The only certainty in fly fishing is change. As soon as a fisherman thinks he has things figured out, he discovers that he does not. I fished the remainder of the afternoon from 1 to 4PM through the highly anticipated canyon water and landed only two additional fish. The hatches on Thursday were extremely brief, and I was forced to experiment with a series of fly changes. A lime green trude spent time on the line and resulted in a small brown trout. Next a yellow Letort hopper plopped upstream for some period of time, and this did generate a nice twelve inch brown trout that aggressively smashed the large terrestrial tight to the bank above a four foot deep trough. But that was it. The major differences between Wednesday and Thursday were that the hatches began later in the day, it was overcast and windy rather than sunny and warm, and the hatch lasted only a fraction of the time that it persisted on Wednesday. On Wednesday quite a few pale morning dun stragglers continued to emerge through the early afternoon, but the wind blew any similar late emergers off the water early on Thursday.

Last Minute Tail Wag Created a Blur

The afternoon was a large amount of hard work for a minimal return. When I returned to the car, I decided to revisit the wide area that delivered the large rainbow, but this move only resulted in a six inch brown that crushed a size 16 light gray caddis. As I drove back toward the campground, I stopped at the public access parking lot where I began the day, and I prospected for a bit with the caddis and enticed another six inch brown to mash my fly.

When I returned to the campground I attempted one more last ditch effort to resurrect the day to something close to Wednesday by casting a yellow Letort hopper and beadhead hares ear to the juicy hole directly behind my campsite, but alas there was no sign of trout. The water looked so attractive that I took the time to rig for deep nymphing, but that move was also futile.

Normally a twenty-four fish day is something to celebrate, but I was spoiled by the best to date outing on Wednesday. The lack of action for three hours in the afternoon also left a bad taste in my mouth as it is human nature to remember recent events and discount earlier success. Did I make a mistake by not selecting one of the other segments of the Conejos River? This question will never be answered, but in hindsight, I experienced three superb productive days of fishing in a remote wild environment in the Conejos Valley, and that is something to be happy about.





Conejos River – 07/22/2015

Time: 9:30AM – 6:00PM

Location: 35 minute hike downstream from the CO 105 bridge and then back up to the starting point on Tuesday (large pool). From 5-6PM fished at the first public access upstream from the Lake Fork Campground.

Fish Landed: 35

Conejos River 07/22/2015 Photo Album

You cannot turn back the clock. This expression refers to a person’s inability to recreate a positive historical experience in the present. I believe this condition relates to nostalgia and the human brain’s propensity to minimize negatives and exaggerate positives. On Wednesday July 22 I was attempting to turn back the clock. On July 21 and 22 2011 during my introduction to the section of the Conejos River below Platoro Reservoir, I experienced some outstanding fishing. I discovered some new flies, and they produced great results during some strong green drake and pale morning dun hatches, and I also landed some large fish by prospecting during the time periods when a dense emergence was not in process.

The conditions were aligned to repeat the 2011 success. I camped at Lake Fork Campground along the upper Conejos River and within a mile of my starting point in 2011. All the reports indicated that pale morning duns and green drakes were emerging on the upper river. The flows were nearly ideal as they fell from 150 CFS on Tuesday to 115 CFS on Wednesday. The sparse population of fishermen were gravitating to the water upstream in the Meadows. The sky was blue and the air temperature was cool. Camping near the CO 105 bridge allowed me to get an early start and thus hike a significant distance from the parking lot. I came prepared with a large number of salvation nymphs and an array of green drakes covering different styles and sizes. Could I recreate the magic? Read on.

There were some concerns. Three fishermen referenced the Meadows area and the great success they experienced during a dense green drake hatch. Perhaps there were no competing fishermen in the area I was targeting because the hatches progressed upstream to the Meadows? Was I feeling smug in getting away from other anglers only to discover that they were in the know, and I outsmarted myself?

Dinosaur Backbone

When I woke up on Wednesday morning, it was a great day with sunny skies and cool temperatures. In fact the high for the day in the high elevation reaches of the Conejos probably never exceeded the high 70’s. According to my plan I arrived at the rough parking lot across the 105 bridge by 9AM and then hiked downstream along the western side of the river for 35 minutes. This brought me to a place where thick trees extended down a steep bank to the river, so rather than attempting to fight through the forest, I dropped down along a gully. Interestingly after all the effort to get away from human beings, I spotted a camper trailer parked across from my entry point. I was undeterred however because it was on the opposite side of the river, and the swift flows made it difficult to cross.

Another Chunky Green Drake Eater

In my ongoing effort to recreate the magic of 2011 I extracted a bushy size 12 green drake dry fly from my front pack and knotted it to my line. I am sure this fly has a different name, but it consists of a lot of deer hair and even more dense hackle. The wings,unlike conventional mayfly ties, are swept back in a fashion similar to a caddis or stonefly. This fly was very productive in 2011, and I operate under the theory that during green drake emergence time frames, trout react to green drake sightings 24/7. Since the fly was quite buoyant due to the heavy hackling, I attached a salvation nymph on a three foot dropper. The salvation was also extremely productive in 2011, and I theorized that it imitated the nymph stage of pale morning duns should they be active prior to an early afternoon hatch.

The Water Between the Bank and the Whitewater Was Money in the Bank

I was quite pleased to learn that these flies were great choices. I methodically worked my way upstream and prospected the two fly combination in all the likely locations, and the brown trout of the Conejos were quite responsive. I landed twelve fine brown trout between 9:30AM and 11:30AM when I paused for lunch. Most of the fish were chunky head shaking browns in the 12-13 inch range with a couple fourteen inch fish in the mix. The bushy green drake produced most of the fish, but I also landed four on the salvation, so it was worth the hassle of fishing with a dropper. So far so good. The flies were producing and the fish were where I expected them to be.

Looks Like the Green Drake in the Mouth of this Well Fed Conejos Brown

Just as I removed my front pack and backpack and sat down to eat, chaos developed. First I observed a few golden stoneflies gliding up from the river, and then some size 16 mayflies appeared. I assume these were pale morning duns, as they sputtered and tumbled in their efforts to become airborne. Lastly some green drakes appeared, but these were much smaller that what I remembered from 2011. Clearly my bushy version would probably not fool these fish if they were focused on the size 14 natural version in front of me. I ignored my mother’s advice to chew my food slowly and quickly gulped my lunch to avoid missing out on the multiple hatches that commenced in front of me. Directly across from my lunch position was a deep wide run, and a fish began to rise with moderate frequency at the top of the run.

Same Fish with the Parachute Green Drake Visible

As I suspected, when I resumed casting, I covered the attractive run with the bushy green drake, and it was ignored, so I searched my stash of green drakes and chose a size 14 parachute version. This fly has a white tipped wing post and presents a narrower silhouette on the water, and in my opinion it represented a much closer imitation of the naturals in front of me. I was pleased to discover that the trout agreed for awhile. The parachute green drake was on fire, and I landed six additional brown trout to push my fish count to eighteen. Several of the takers were fourteen inch brutes that confidently inhaled the fraudulent green drake imitation.

A Gorgeous Deep Buttery Gold

I was in a euphoric state when I arrived at a sweet spot where the main current deflected off a high vertical rock wall and created a long eddy. From my position below the bottom of the turning point of the current, I could spot at least five nice fish. Three fish were in the nook of the eddy before the water turned and flowed back along the wall. Apparently there was a soft spot below the surface where fish could hold and snatch food from the churning froth. I tried to fool these fish first with my parachute drake, but it was soundly ignored. I was seeing quite a few yellow sallies, but very few green drakes, so I tied on one of the small yellow bodied stoneflies from my front pack. Apparently this was not on the menu either. What could the fish be eating? Some pale morning duns continued to flutter up from the surface, so I switched for a third time to a size 16 cinnamon comparadun.

Eight Feet Above the Root Ball Facing Downstream

This fly was also shunned by the trout in the nook, but I turned my attention to two long torpedoes up and across from me that faced into the reversing current as it flowed along the base of the rock wall. These were very nice fish. Could I even dare to assume that I could bring one to my fly? And even if I managed to hook one, it would be quite a challenge to maneuver it through the heavy current between me and their location.

I fluttered a cast downstream of the two targeted fish so that quite a bit of slack landed, and then the comparadun slowly drifted toward the holding position of the fish. In a matter of fact move, one of the fish slid under my fly and sipped it in! Now I was faced with fighting this large fish across the heavy intervening current, and somehow I managed to do it. I slid my net beneath a gorgeous seventeen inch rainbow trout and marveled at the beauty of its vivid pink stripe and distinct spots. This would be my only rainbow of the day, but what a thrill it was.

A Great Shot of the Hefty Rainbow Longer Than the Net Opening

I continued prospecting with the cinnamon comparadun and moved my fish count from 18 to 30. What a productive imitation! I was skeptical that I could prospect with such a tiny fly, but the fish were having no trouble seeing it even in riffled water. When I lofted a cast to a likely spot that held a trout, the response was typically a confident sip. I snapped off one fly on a hooked fish, and I bent the hook on a second one, as I needed to use my hemostat to leverage it from an awkward position in the fish’s mouth. Eventually I lost the bent fly when a brown trout swallowed it deep, and I cut the line rather than try to remove it and injure the fish.

Eventually I landed a small brown on the pale morning dun to reach thirty, and I decided to experiment with something different. The PMD hatch had waned by this point, and I was encountering fewer willing takers. I was in the middle section of a huge long deep pool where the main current flowed along the base of some large rocks on the east bank. The comparadun failed to interest any trout in this juicy stretch of the river, so I converted to a yellow Letort hopper. I gambled that the hopper with a narrow profile might imitate one of the golden stoneflies that I observed throughout the afternoon, or perhaps natural hoppers were present as a result of the intermittent blasts of wind.

Just a Pretty Fish

I flicked the hopper to the top of the pool and allowed it to drift slowly along the inside edge of the current seam and suddenly a thirteen inch brown trout savagely attacked the fraud. I was shocked at this immediate reversal in fortunes resulting from a change in flies. Then as if to emphasize my fly change, a second brown trout inhaled the hopper in roughly the same location as the first one. I was re-energized as I departed the deep pool and resumed my upstream migration with the Letort hopper, however the hot terrestrial imitation lost its allure, and I began registering refusals. For some reason the fish in the shallower locations were better able to distinguish my fly from natural facsimiles.

Two Browns Mashed the Hopper in This Location

Once again I considered my options and decided to downsize to a lime green trude, as this fly more closely approximated the size of the golden stoneflies, although the color had too much green and not enough light orange. The feedback from the fish confirmed that the lime green trude was not to their liking, so I changed again to a muggly yellow sally. This fly is intended to imitate the smaller yellow sally stonefly, but I did not observe as many of these compared to the larger golden stoneflies. This fly was also soundly ignored by the denizens of the Conejos River.

At 4PM I reached the attractive deep pool where I began my Conejos River fishing adventure on Tuesday, so I elected to return to the car rather than repeat the section already covered. It was still early, and my campsite was set up, so I stayed in my waders and drove north along CO 250 beyond the Lake Fork Campground. I thought I remembered water in between the campground and the Meadows area, and I wanted to check it out as a possible destination for Thursday.

Sure enough a couple miles beyond the campground I encountered a nice public parking area and pulled in to inspect the water. It was similar to the segment that I fished downstream of the bridge on Wednesday with lots of exposed rocks and pockets with a medium steep gradient. I decided to give it a try and removed the yellow sally and reverted to the yellow Letort hopper, but this time I added a salvation nymph on a three foot dropper.

Big Spots

I worked my way upstream for fifteen minutes, and then I was pleased to land a thirteen inch brown that slammed the hopper. After releasing the brown trout, I made a few more casts and observed a swirl to the hopper in some difficult lighting conditions. Unfortunately I set the hook to an apparent refusal and created a foul hooked situation. The angry fish streaked downstream, and before I could leverage it back to my net, it broke off the salvation nymph. Once again I seem to be losing salvation nymphs at a rapid rate, so in an effort to conserve them for the remainder of the summer, I replaced it with a beadhead hares ear nymph. This proved to be a good choice, and I landed two additional ten inch browns before 6PM.

I began to think more about a cold beer than fooling more fish, so I reeled up my flies and hooked them to the rod guide and called it a day. And what a day it was! I landed thirty-five trout, all browns except for one large rainbow. Many of the brown trout were in the twelve to fourteen inch range, and these are nice sized wild fish for a relatively small high elevation river. I experienced four basic phases during the day. First there was the green drake/salvation prospecting period which covered the bulk of the morning hours. Next I enjoyed success with my slender profile parachute green drake. The most productive stage resulted from replicating the pale morning dun hatch with a size 16 cinnamon comparadun. A brief final chapter closed out the day with the yellow Letort hopper drawing interest.

Top Producers on July 22

Most of my success occurred on the west side of the river away from the road. The best spots were deep pockets and slots next to the bank. This is not surprising, as brown trout love the protection offered by bank structure and gravitate to water of moderate depth where they value safety but can still see food items that drift by. Surprisingly another productive water type was long wide relatively shallow riffle stretches on my side of the river. I encountered these areas during the hatch period, so perhaps the fish spread out when a high density of food sources caused them to sacrifice some security for calories.

Largest Brown Came from This Unlikely Shallow Riffle Area

One of my best brown trout on the day came from such a shallow water area. A large dead branch reached over the thirty foot wide shallow riffle, so I was forced to hook a cast around the branch so the parachute green drake landed ten feet above. I was dumbfounded to witness a fourteen inch brown as it snatched the green drake as it bobbed down the riffles to a point just beneath the dead branch. It is hard to top the satisfaction received when I dupe a relatively large trout to take my fly in a relatively obscure place.

Did I recapture the magic of 2011? Can a fly fisherman turn back the clock? I’m forced to admit that I may have not only repeated the magic of the Conejos River, but I may have created a new higher standard. Now I asked myself the question, what could I do for an encore on Thursday? I returned to the campground to celebrate with an Odell Ninety Shilling Ale, and I evaluated my options for Thursday July 23.

Conejos River – 07/21/2015

Time: 3:00PM – 6:00PM

Location: Below CO 105 bridge; walked downstream past Lake Fork to huge nice pool and then fished back up to within .2 mile of the car.

Fish Landed: 9

Conejos River 07/21/2015 Photo Album
Conejos in Spanish means rabbit. The white rabbit in Alice and Wonderland leads Alice down the hole to Wonderland, so could this be the rabbit that the Spanish named the Conejos River after? The chronology does not work, but the Conejos River Valley was certainly a wonderland for me during the past week. Perfect weather, nearly ideal flows, multiple hatches, camping next to the river, and lots of fish made this a trip to remember. Oh, and I did spot several very large rabbits thumping about the campground, so I suppose these are the rabbits that engendered the name for the river in south central Colorado.

I visited the Conejos River in 2011 on the dates in July that coincide with this 2015 trip, and I enjoyed some wonderful fishing on the upper Conejos below Platoro Reservoir. The Conejos River Angler pointed me to this water and sold me perfect flies to match the aquatic insects that I encountered. It was this magic that I hoped to recapture with my trip on Tuesday July 21, 2015. I got off to a nice early start, and after 5.5 hours of driving to the southern border above New Mexico, I arrived at Lake Fork Campground. The last 18 miles of the trip consisted of a rough dirt road with a speed limit of 25 MPH. CDOT can save the speed limit signs for another location, because it is nearly impossible to drive faster without damaging one’s vehicle.

Upon my arrival I quickly placed some of my belongings at camp site number 7 and paid for two nights. I actually planned to stay for three, but I hedged my bets until I evaluated the quality of the fishing. There were eighteen camp sites and approximately seven were occupied, so I had my choice from quite a few locations. I chose seven since it was spacious, had a nice surface on which to place my tent, and it bordered on the Conejos River.

I was anxious to sample the fishing, so I delayed assembling the tent until I returned in the evening. I jumped back in the car and drove a mile back down CO 250 to the CO 105 turn off, and after making a right turn crossed a new one lane bridge and parked in the crude grass and stone area on the other side of the river. I was nearly ready to fish when another vehicle arrived, and three anglers emerged attired in waders. After a brief chat I learned that the single man was from Albuquerque, NM and the other couple was from Maryland. They fished the Meadows area upstream in the morning with outstanding success, and they now planned to continue their good fortunes in the river at the 105 bridge. The gentleman from Albuquerque suggested that it was easier to hike downstream along the river on the side next to the road, but I stubbornly planned to emulate my 2011 visit with a twenty minute hike along the west side.

Conejos River Flowing Strong at 150 CFS

I followed my plan exactly and hiked across the meadow grass for twenty minutes and then dropped down to the edge of the river. When I pushed aside the willows and stepped into the water, I realized I was at the same beautiful pool where I attempted to begin fishing on my first visit on July 21, 2011. Unlike that experience when the pool was occupied by another fisherman, it was totally vacant and available for me to prospect. I tied on a parachute green drake since I read that this large mayfly was hatching. From past experience I know that fish tune into green drakes all day long during the emergence period. Unfortunately on this day they were not interested in my parachute style fly, so I clipped it off and experimented with a size 14 elk hair caddis with a medium olive body. Again this was ignored, but the pool looked too juicy to not harbor fish, so I opted to switch techniques and converted to deep nymphing.

I configured my line with a strike indicator and knotted on a 20 incher as my top fly and a salvation nymph as the bottom attractor. The 20 incher covered the possible presence of stoneflies or the nymph form of a green drake, and since it was weighted, it also sank the flies to the bottom. The salvation nymph was a bet on the presence of the nymph stage of pale morning duns. These were great ideas, but neither excited the fish, so I swapped the salvation for an emerald caddis pupa. I noticed some splashy rises, and several fish actually cleared the water in their attempt to inhale something from the air. This always surprises me, since it seems leaping from the water exceeds the caloric value of any food captured with this maneuver.

None of the nymph offerings enticed any fish, so I decided to revert to dry flies. I continued to believe that caddis were causing the late afternoon erratic rises, so I responded with a size twelve olive stimulator. I decided that I was wasting my time in the huge deep pool and began moving up the river at a regular pace, and I prospected the stimulator in likely pockets, riffles and runs as I carefully waded against the strong current. When I later checked the streamflows for July 21, I discovered they were running at a stiff 150 cfs pace. This new tactic quickly produced four eleven to twelve inch brown trout, so my faith in the Conejos River gradually returned.

Typical Small Pockets That Produced

Unfortunately after the initial flurry of success, the stimulator ceased to produce, so I elected to reprise the dry/dropper technique that served me well in 2011. I tied a Chernobyl ant to my line and then added a salvation nymph and ultra zug bug. My initial introduction to the salvation nymph occurred in 2011, when I purchased a half dozen from the Conejos River Angler, and they were extremely productive during that trip. Since then the salvation nymph has become a mainstay in my fly box.

A Nice Brown on the First Day

The three fly dry/dropper combination was an effective choice, as I landed five more brown trout over the remainder of the afternoon as I worked my way upstream at a steady pace to a point .2 miles below the 105 bridge. The majority of the brown trout consumed the ultra zug bug, but one snatched the salvation and another decent brown trout slurped the Chernobyl ant from the surface right along the bank. This was the best fish of the afternoon as it measured thirteen inches and exhibited a chunky profile.

Best Fish of Tuesday Slurped a Chernobyl Ant

I was pleased to land nine fish in three hours of fishing in the late afternoon. 3PM – 6PM is typically slow, since it unfolds after any emergence activity in the Rocky Mountains. Also the flows of 150 cfs were a bit high, and this yielded fewer prime holding locations and made wading a challenge. On the positive side, it was cool for most of the afternoon with partial sun. Offsetting this was a constant wind, and this made accurate casting an ongoing battle.

I returned to my new campsite and assembled my tent and ate dinner. That evening two campers mentioned fishing in the Meadows area, so I became concerned that I was missing the best fishing by gravitating to the section of river below the 105 bridge. I decided to stick with my plan for Wednesday. If the fishing was sub par, and hatches did not materialize, I could join the crowd in the Meadows on Thursday.

Mitchell Lake – 07/20/2015

Time: 1:00PM – 3:00PM

Location: Southwest shore.

Fish Landed: 0

Mitchell Lake 07/20/2015 Photo Album

It was Amy’s final day in Colorado before returning to Oregon, so we planned a hike for Monday July 20. We departed Denver after I returned from a physical therapy session and arrived at Mitchell Lake by 11:45AM. We were convinced that the crowds would be minimized on a Monday, but this was not the case. No parking spaces were free at the Mitchell Lake trailhead, as we circled the lot several times. Our only option was to return to the day use parking lot, and this step would add another uninteresting mile along a paved roadway. I decided to park in the emergency vehicle parking space while the girls applied sunscreen and pulled on their hiking boots. They planned to hike three miles to Blue Lakes while my destination was Mitchell Lake for some fishing, and that was only a mile up the trail. Amy and Jane would find me at Mitchell Lake on their return hike after I made the extended hike from the day use parking lot.

But wait, two returning hikers appeared near our car in the emergency spot, and Jane asked if they were leaving. They replied in the affirmative, so Jane followed them to their car. Once Amy was ready, I backed out of the emergency space and circled to the parking space of the departing hikers. The cooperative holders of the parking space agreed to “lollygag” until we appeared, and then they backed out and ceded the valuable space to us. Whew, what a start to our hike.

I was now able to stuff my backpack with all the essentials for fishing in Mitchell Lake, and then we charged up the trail. We departed the parking lot at noon and arrived at the shore of Mitchell Lake by 12:40PM. We very quickly discovered that Mitchell Lake fostered a healthy mosquito population, so we lathered up with repellent and ate our lunches. After lunch Amy and Jane began their trek to Blue Lakes, and I walked west along the shoreline to a point thirty yards below the inlet. While we ate lunch I observed quite a few rises on the smooth surface of the lake, so I was somewhat optimistic that I could land a fish or two from this high elevation body of water.

The Inlet of Mitchell Lake

Unfortunately by the time I pulled on my waders and configured my line with an elk hair caddis, the wind picked up and created a strong riffle on the surface. I attempted to overcome this adversity by spraying thirty foot casts in all directions as I worked my way slowly along the shoreline to the inlet. This approach seemed quite futile with my tiny fly dancing in the waves in this comparatively large body of water. What were the chances of placing a cast over a fish that happened to be looking toward the surface?

Dainty White Wildflowers Where the Stream Spills Into the Lake

I changed the elk hair caddis for a royal stimulator with a white wing for better visibility, but the dense cloud cover and wind made the situation quite daunting. I decided to move back toward where I began, as there was an open area that enabled long back casts without interference. I took a break from casting, and after five to ten minutes, the wind subsided, and some small rings appeared on the lake. This was my signal to resume fishing, so I sent out forty and fifty foot casts that taxed my distance shooting capability. This cycle repeated itself for the remainder of my time at Mitchell Lake with only a couple humiliating refusals compensating for my patience and effort. I did add a second dry fly, a Charlie Craven spant, at one point, but this also failed to snag a fish.

Pretty High Country Scene

At three o’clock I heard Jane’s voice so I clipped my fly to my rod guide and gathered my backpack to begin the return hike. By 3PM it became quite overcast and the wind whipped across the lake, so I was quite chilled even though the girls were comfortable in their shorts. We made it to the parking lot just as a light shower descended, so I quickly removed my boots and waders and prepared for the return drive.

I spent time with my daughter and wife and visited a beautiful setting, so I cannot be upset over the lack of fish. The high country scenery was a visual delight, and that in and of itself justified the trip.

Frying Pan River – 07/17/2015

Time: 12:15PM – 4:00PM

Location: The segment below the spring; mile marker 10.5.

Fish Landed: 15

Frying Pan River 07/17/2015 Photo Album

The Weller method of washing camp dishes is often held up for ridicule by the younger members of our family. The steps involved are heating water in a coffee pot until boiling and then dumping into a white plastic dish bin containing liquid dish washing detergent. Once the dishes are scrubbed with a washcloth, the soapy water is dumped, and the dish bin is rinsed with fresh water. This water is then used to refresh surrounding shrubs before more clean water is added to the dish bin. The soapy dishes, pots and utensils are then rinsed by swishing in the dish bin. The final step is to dry the dishes and return them to their proper place in the plastic car-camping storage bins. The rinse water is then returned to the soil near the campsite.

Camp Dish Washing Keys

Why am I explaining this detailed process to my readers in a fishing blog? On Thursday evening my daughter, Amy, volunteered to execute the dish washing steps as outlined above. Unfortunately she neglected to remove a spoon from the bin before dumping the soapy water. She was extra diligent about disposing of soapy water away from the campsite and elected to toss it over a sharp bank at which point she heard the ringing sound of a metal spoon landing ten feet below. It was almost dark at this point, so she resigned herself to be a camping litterbug.

Friday morning however brought fresh light to the situation, and feeling bad about her inadvertent trashing of the environment, Amy resolved to retrieve the $.50 utensil. Five feet to the left of the spoon a large log angled from the lip of the bank to a point beyond the spoon. Amy used the knobs and broken branches from the large tree trunk to secure her position as she carefully picked her way down the steep eroding bank. Once she was across from the spoon, she carefully slid across some loose dirt and snatched the prize spoon and thus cleansed the environment at Bogan Flats Campground. A few more sidesteps brought her back to the tree, and then it was not long before she pulled herself back to the brim of the embankment with the sought after spoon firmly gripped in her hand. My daughter is an amazing person.

Since we were unable to stay at Bogan Flats on Friday night , we strategically packed the Santa Fe with all our camping, biking and fishing gear. We were careful to place the biking and fishing items near the one accessible door, as we required these components for the planned day’s activities. Fitting everything in the Santa Fe while maintaining access was a significant accomplishment.

Feeling quite proud of this feat, we departed the campground and drove to the spring between mile marker 10 and 11 along the Frying Pan River. This trip took roughly an hour, and we arrived at the large pullout by noon. I quickly prepared to fish, while Jane and Amy readied their bikes for a ride on the road that follows the Frying Pan River to Basalt. The sky was a rich blue, and I expected to enjoy a beautiful sunny day on my favorite Colorado river.

I intended to hike down the road to the downstream border with private land, but two fishermen were already in that vicinity, so I was forced to cut in farther upstream than I desired. I also wanted to cross to the other side, but the shallow wide area was close to the downstream fishermen, so I resigned myself to working up along the roadside. I began with a Chernobyl ant trailing a salvation nymph, and in a short amount of time I landed a small eight inch brown on the salvation.

I continued prospecting the pockets and hooked a nice brown trout that raced downstream and eventually shed the hook, and I surmised that his fish may have been foul hooked. Next I hooked a large rainbow in a deep slot towards the middle of the river, and this fish fought valiantly before also escaping my hook. Some dark clouds began to gather in the southwestern sky, and they were accompanied by the sound of thunder.

Held Over the Net

I moved up along the left bank to an area where a thicket of shrubs and branches extended over the water. I carefully tossed the Chernobyl ant fifteen feet directly above me, and it drifted back within six inches of the branches. When it nearly arrived at my feet, I spotted a subtle flash in the glare on the surface and immediately reacted with a hook set. What a surprise to be attached to an eighteen inch rainbow with vivid color and distinct spots!

Tight Spot on the Frying Pan

After releasing the prize rainbow, the sky grew darker, and it became increasingly difficult to follow the yellow spot on the Chernobyl, so I decided to use this time to return to the car and eat lunch. I fished from 12:15 to 12:45, so it was actually lunch time, and it made sense to eat during the less than optimal weather conditions. Initially I was planning to sit by the river to eat, but large raindrops appeared, so I retreated to the Santa Fe and ate there while sheets of rain descended for fifteen minutes. I gave some thought to driving down the road to check on the girls, but they took raincoats along, and I was hopeful that they avoided the storm cell.

Another Decent Brown

The thunderstorm scared off the competing fishermen below me, so after lunch I hiked downstream along the shoulder to the spot just above a small island where it was shallow enough to cross to the opposite shore. I executed my initial plan and worked upstream on the south side of the river for the remainder of the afternoon and landed an additional thirteen fish. One change I enacted was switching the Chernobyl ant for a tan pool toy when I reached the stretch of water above the spring. The Chernobyl was not producing, and I wanted a more buoyant fly that could suspend two beadhead nymphs. This adjustment of course allowed me to add a beadhead hares ear as a second dropper with the salvation.

This Pocket Yielded a Fish

I kept expecting a pale morning dun hatch to develop, but I never spotted more than a handful of mayflies, and as a corollary to this circumstance, no rising fish. By 3:45 I reached a point where the strong current ran tight to the south bank, and in order to skip this stretch, I was forced to fight through the trees and wade tight to the overhanging branches. I hoped to end by four o’clock in anticipation of the long trip back to Denver, so I reversed direction and waded back downstream along the edge and crossed just above the spring. Jane and Amy were just returning from their bike ride and an afternoon spent exploring Basalt.

One More View of Best Brown of the Day

The post-rainstorm action consisted almost entirely of brown trout in the 7-11 inch range, although I did land a chunky thirteen inch variety and two twelve inch fish. Roughly half of these fish nabbed the salvation nymph, and the other half grabbed the hares ear. The best results came from the mid-section of slots and pools just as the speed of the drifting dry/dropper began to accelerate.

Pretty Flowers in the River

Friday was a sub-par day compared to most of my time on the Frying Pan River, but the timing was between the spring hatches and the dense summer emergences. I’m not sure where the big browns and rainbows were hiding, but I did manage to land one big boy. I cannot wait to return later in the summer when the green drakes, pale morning duns and blue winged olives are emerging and cause the big fish to abandon their fear.

Crystal River – 07/16/2015

Time: 4:00PM – 7:00PM

Location: Bogan Flats Campground upstream to the group camping area and then from the downstream border of the campground back upstream for 50 yards.

Fish Landed: 12

Crystal River 07/16/2015 Photo Album

Our daughter, Amy, was visiting for ten days during her summer break from the physical therapy program at Pacific University in Hillsboro, OR. Jane and I considered several options for a camping trip during her stay and finally settled on the Crystal River valley. Jane and Amy had never visited this area, and we were intrigued by the towns of Marble and Redstone, and there were numerous interesting hikes and bike rides nearby. In addition the Crystal River was the common thread, and I experienced one reasonably successful day fishing in Marble and upstream from the Bogan Flats Campground several years ago.

Jane and I attempted to make reservations using the USFS web page, but we quickly discovered that all the sites that allowed reservations were locked up for Friday night, July 17. However, it appeared that there were numerous first come/first serve campsites at Bogan Flats. Based on this assessment, we decided to make the trip on Wednesday and secure a walk up site for three nights.

On Wednesday morning we filled the Santa Fe from floor to roof with camping gear and departed for the Crystal Valley. The addition of a third camper challenged our ability to squeeze everything into the back of the car, but we managed to do it with no significant omissions. After a four hour drive with a stop for lunch in Glenwood Springs, we arrived at Bogan Flats by 3:30PM and made a quick circle of the campground. Very quickly we discovered that all the sites were contained in the reservation system, and this meant all were reserved for Friday night. We were now faced with the decision of whether to drive to another campsite, or change our plans to stay at Bogan Flats for two nights rather than three. We chose the latter as we concluded that we could pack everything up in a manner that enabled biking and fishing on Friday and then return to Denver.

Before leaving Denver I did a quick check of the stream flows on the Crystal River, and I was quite unnerved to see a huge spike in flows Wednesday night. Prior to the peak, the river flows subsided to 430 cfs, but on Wednesday night the graph depicted a dramatic blip to 700 cfs. Causing me more concern was our stop at the USFS White River ranger station in Carbondale where the man on duty confirmed that the area received heavy rain, and he also informed us that the Crystal muddies quickly as it passes through soft red soil on its way to the Roaring Fork River.

Fortunately as we drove on Colorado 133 for 25 miles along the Crystal River on our way to Bogan Flats, I noticed that the river was nearly crystal clear albeit with relatively high flows, although a level that appeared to allow edge fishing.

On the Road to Marble

After we settled on campsite number four and paid our fee for two nights, we assembled the tent and canopy; and with some time to kill before dinner, we chose to take a brief bike ride. I suggested that we ride toward Marble a bit, as I selfishly wished to check out the river access, but once we got started, we fell into a rhythm and continued into the town. The ride lasted for an hour, and we endured several significant hills but enjoyed seeing numerous marble remnants and sculpture along the way. The town of Marble was rather small with a firehouse and many small vacation homes.

Marble Sculpture

On Thursday I suggested that we undertake a bike ride on the Rio Grande Trail in the morning, and then in the afternoon I planned to fish from the campground while the girls could use the car to travel to a trailhead where they could either bike or hike. Amy and Jane chose a segment of the Rio Grande Trail that went from Woody Creek to the terminus in Aspen at Neale Street. We executed the plan with the only stumble being our inability to find the Woody Creek parking lot. Instead we found Jaffe Park, and while this served our purpose, it also necessitated a steep .5 climb to the trail at the outset of the twenty mile ride. Much of the course followed the upper Roaring Fork River, and the clear although somewhat high flows beckoned me to abandon the Crystal River to fish this larger river with reputedly bigger fish. The Rio Grande Trail skirted Aspen, and it was rarely obvious that we were traveling through a resort town with extensive million dollar residences within a stone’s throw of our path.

Rafting the Roaring Fork River

Upon our return to Bogan Flats, I quickly prepared and devoured my lunch and then set out on my Crystal River fishing adventure. It was almost 4PM by the time I donned my waders and assembled my Sage four weight rod. The sky was mostly sunny with occasional clouds providing a white blemish on the background of blue. I found a worn path that cut away from the entrance to the campground and quickly hiked toward the river. The location where the Crystal River flowed past our campsite featured a high steep bank, so I was looking for a place along the trail where I could descend to the river without undue risk.

Running High but Clear

It was not long before I found my opportunity, and I bushwhacked my way through the forest until I found myself along the edge of the river. As I stood next to the river, I confirmed that it was high and clear. Next I prepared to fish, and I spotted a yellow stonefly cruising up from the river, so I elected to begin with a yellow sally adult, but after a reasonable test in several promising pockets with no results, I decided that I needed something larger to attract attention with the higher flows. I adjusted my approach to dry/dropper and featured a Chernobyl ant connected via a 5X tippet to a beadhead hares ear nymph.

This combination at least prompted a few refusals to the Chernobyl ant, but I still could not land a Crystal River fish, so I swapped the Chernobyl for a yellow Letort hopper. Perhaps golden stoneflies were present along with their smaller yellow sally cousins. Again I could not entice any interest, so I exchanged the hares ear for a salvation nymph and continued prospecting likely holding spots. Finally the salvation nymph delivered a small rainbow trout, but I consumed roughly thirty minutes with intense casting and wading to achieve this result.

Typical Small Crystal River Rainbow Trout

At this point I concluded that the dry/dropper approach was not conducive for the high cold late run off conditions present on the Crystal River, so I resigned myself to going deep with weight. I rigged my line with an indicator, split shot, iron sally nymph and salvation nymph and began dredging the bottom of the river. This actually paid dividends as I landed seven additional fish until I decided to move on at 6PM. The trout chose evenly between the iron sally and salvation nymph, and six of the netted fish were rainbow trout with one lone brook trout in the mix. The brook trout was actually quite nice by western standards and measured around nine inches. All the rainbows were quite small and fit in the 6-9 inch range. Unfortunately the best fish between four and six PM was a thirteen inch whitefish, which I did not count.

Surprised by a Brook Trout

When I reached the group camping area, the river narrowed and flowed tight to a high bank. I did not wish to undertake the challenge of circling around this obstacle, so I took advantage of the group campground road and walked back to the paved road and then returned to Bogan Flats. The Santa Fe was not parked at our campsite, so I decided to march the length of the campground to investigate the water at the lower end. The river split around a tiny island, so I waded across the smaller channel to the point of the island and worked some pockets with my nymphs. The indicator dipped, and I set the hook only to feel significant weight bowing my rod. Could this be a bigger fish to end my day on the Crystal? Imagine my disappointment when I stripped in a twelve inch whitefish that was attracted to the iron sally.

I was now disappointed with nymph fishing, so I decided to at least have some casting fun. Earlier I witnessed two trout that rose to inspect my neon red strike indicator, so I tied a royal wulff to my line. I’ve had success with this ploy as a response to indicator rises during many previous outings. Much to my surprise, this strategy worked nicely as I landed four additional trout while I worked my way methodically up along the right bank. Two of the landed fish were rainbows and two were browns. I made sure to photograph the brown trout in the waning light to prove that I achieved a Crystal River grand slam; rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout and whitefish in three hours of fishing.

A Brown Trout Completes the Trifecta

At one point I was intently focused on casting and watching my fly, and I hooked and landed a small brown. As I released the fish, I heard a voice from high on the bank above me congratulating me on my success. I turned around and gazed upon a woman and a dog, and she seemed keenly interested in my every move. She told me that she was enchanted by the rhythm of my casting and fish catching movements.

I ended my day with an avid spectator and dry fly success, and I managed to reach double digits with twelve fish landed in three hours. I suppose it was a decent outing, but I yearned for greater size and the addictive tug of a tougher fish on my rod. Perhaps tomorrow the Frying Pan could quell my desires for better fish.


Eagle River – 07/10/2015

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Downstream end of Eagle lease; Horn Ranch open space above the route 6 bridge.

Fish Landed: 7

Eagle River 07/10/2015 Photo Album

All a fisherman seeks is opportunity. On Friday July 10 I would have numerous opportunities on the Eagle River.

The sun was bright and the sky was a deep blue as Dave G. and I departed from the Gaboury house in Eagle Ranch at 9AM on Friday morning. Despite the sunny sky, the air temperature was cool and in the sixties, although the warming effect of the sun would quickly have an impact. We decided to investigate the Eagle lease above Eagle, CO first before moving farther upstream. The section of water we were interested in fishing was quite turbid on Thursday as a result of the day of rain of Wednesday, but we were hopeful that the lack of precipitation on Thursday allowed sufficient clearing to enable edge fishing.

Entrance to the Eagle Lease

When we crossed the river at the first bridge after the circle at Eagle, we stopped and checked the water clarity. The river remained a milky olive color and flowed at 1,000 cfs, but we banked on enough edge visibility for the fish to see our flies. We both agreed that it was sufficiently clear to allow a trial run, so we continued on to the western most access point to the Eagle lease. Dave G. called Todd to inform him of our decision, and within ten minutes we were all geared up and prepared to fish. We each used the metal ladder to climb over the barbed wire fence and then crossed the meadow until we reached the river at its western most edge. Dave G. elected to fish the bottom of a nice side pocket that began as a narrow deep run and then fanned out into a small pool.

Hares Ear in the Lip

I meanwhile moved to the deep narrow top section and began with a Charlie boy hopper, beadhead hares ear, and salvation nymph. Dave G. hooked up very quickly, and then I saw a pause in the hopper and set the hook and found myself attached to a spunky streaking thirteen inch rainbow trout. I skillfully played the energetic fish to my net and snapped a quick photo before I released it back into the olive stained river. Next I dropped some casts into the small pocket above the triangle pool, and once again I was pleased to see a dip in the hopper. I reacted with a solid hook set and battled a second mirror image thirteen inch rainbow to my net. The cloudy state of the water did not seem to be affecting our fishing success, so I was quite optimistic about our prospects on the Eagle lease.

The three of us worked our way up along the left bank of the river over the remainder of the morning. Unfortunately the good fortune of my first thirty minutes did not repeat over the remaining 1.5 hours. I did manage three solid opportunities; there is that word again, but I was unable to convert any of them. The first missed chance came when I cast my flies to the mid-section of a long narrow deep channel next to the willows. As the Charlie boy drifted back toward, me a huge pink sided mouth appeared, so I set the hook. The owner of the large mouth reacted immediately and bolted to the heavy nearby white water. All I could do was allow the fish to streak down the river. I attempted to follow it for a couple steps, but the round slippery Eagle River boulders made this quite a challenge. After ripping out line at an alarming rate, the fish accelerated even more and snapped off my two subsurface flies. I surmise that the rise was actually a refusal, and my hook set resulted in a large angry foul hooked rainbow trout.

The other two opportunities of the morning were matching experiences. In both cases the hopper paused during the drift, and this caused me to react with a hook set. The fish on the other end of the line demonstrated some aerial acrobatic skills, and I maintained tension and fought the fish for a couple minutes when somehow the rainbows managed to slide free of the hook. Both fish were probably in the thirteen to fourteen inch range, and both amounted to lost opportunities. Adding insult to the situations, in both cases the pent up energy of the arced rod released when the fish escaped resulting in a massive snarl of my tippet and three flies with the expected curse words in response.

As noon approached I realized that I had fished the prime edge water that yielded quite a few nice fish in 2014, and I could see Todd and Dave G. wading along the edge of the river 100 yards ahead. In addition some dark clouds were rapidly rolling toward me from the southwest and the wind kicked up to the sound of thunder claps. I decided to hustle and skipped the remaining water which my fellow fishermen waded through. Just as I came within twenty yards of the retreating Todd and Dave G., some waves of rain blew sideways and instantly soaked the back of my arms. I quickly caught up and turned up a path and followed the other two fishermen to the car, where we quickly shed our gear and took our seats sheltered from the brief rain shower.

We used the brief period of rain to drive upriver to a new spot called Horn Ranch. Apparently the Eagle County conservation fund along with some other grants secured a nice stretch of land between the route 6 bridge downstream from Milk Creek and the I70 bridge crossing. This was new water to us, so we parked in the dirt lot before a railroad crossing and finished our lunches and then progressed through some tall weeds to the edge of the river. Just as we left our cars, the rain subsided, and the sun reappeared, and it became quite warm and muggy. The water in this area was still below Milk Creek and therefore the clarity remained compromised.

Dave G., Todd and I spread out along the left, north bank and worked our way upstream between 1 and 2:30PM. Early on in this period I hooked a fourteen inch rainbow on the ultra zug bug. I was still fishing with the dry/dropper combination of the Charlie boy hopper, beadhead hares ear, and ultra zug bug. The rainbow was a tough foe and put up quite a bit of resistance before I brought it to my net.

The Horn Ranch section in this lower area was actually not my type of water, as it was a large wide smooth deep pool with few current breaks to signal likely fish holding locations. Because of the lack of visible structure, I began to doubt the efficiency of casting a dry/dropper and, therefore, after a lull in action following the rainbow landing, I converted to a nymphing set up. This consisted of an indicator, split shot, beadhead hares ear and bright green caddis pupa. I noticed a handful of surface rises to caddis while fishing the dry/dropper and actually debated employing a single caddis dry, so the caddis pupa was an attempt to take the middle ground.

After finally setting up my nymph rig, I made a cast to a deep trough just below a subtle current seam and immediately snagged bottom. I waded as close as I could, but I realized the snag point was too deep and too fast to risk further rescue efforts, so I snapped off my entire system. The only thing that remained was the strike indicator and tapered leader. This unfortunate incident resulted in quite a bit of wasted time extending the leader, crimping split shot and knotting on new flies. Eventually I resumed fishing, but I quickly grew bored with the uninteresting water and lack of action, so Dave G. and I found a path and met Todd and returned to the parking lot.

Dave G. suggested that we move upstream to the spot where an old concrete bridge spanned the river, so Todd and I agreed with his suggestion. We all walked out to the middle of the bridge and surveyed the new water. As I gazed downstream I salivated over the edge water along the east bank (road side), so I chose that as my territory for the remainder of the afternoon. Todd and Dave G. meanwhile liked the look of the west bank, as Milk Creek entered and created some side channels and structure.

I walked down the shoulder of route 6 until I was above a large drainage pipe, and then I carefully descended a steep bank to the river. A guide and client were below me on the same side of the river, but the intervening distance was at least 100 yards. The water ahead of me was much more to my liking with numerous large rocks forming current breaks and large side pockets and runs where the river either fed against the bank or reflected back toward the middle.

A Fat Caddis Slurper in the Afternoon

I prospected with the nymphs that remained on my line from the western end of Horn Ranch, but it was not long before I began to observe quite a few caddis dapping on the surface. The trout also seemed to become keenly aware of this new food source, and sporadic rises dimpled the surface upstream and across from my position. I quickly removed the nymph paraphernalia, and tied a size 16 deer hair caddis to my line. This paid quick dividends as I picked up a feisty and plump rainbow, but then I hooked a nice fish in the tail. This fish streaked downstream, and it took quite a while to tire it to the point that I could hydroplane it upstream across the surface to my net for a gentle release.

Once I was back in action, refusals became the standard, so I clipped off the gray caddis and replaced it with an olive brown version. Again this satisfied the trout for a bit as I hooked and landed a twelve inch brown and then a thirteen inch rainbow. Just when I felt I had the puzzle solved, I moved up along the bank a bit to fish to some steady risers, and the olive brown deer hair caddis fell out of favor. What did I have left in my bag of tricks? I scanned my velcro Simms fly box and spotted a muggly caddis. Charlie Craven designed this fly to look raggedy from the start, so I decided to give it a try. The fly has snowshoe rabbit foot hair as an underwing to aid buoyancy, but no hackle, and thus rides deep in the surface film.

Caddis in the Corner

The muggly proved to be a smart choice, and I landed another very solid chunky rainbow in the fourteen inch range. All the rainbows were robust fighters that made electric runs and performed aerial maneuvers in their attempts to escape. I attributed their energy to the fact that the river had just subsided to fishable levels, and therefore the fish had not yet been caught and released in the 2015 season. I also blame my high percentage of lost fish to the early season spunky nature of the fish.

I released fish number seven and looked upstream and once again observed some gulping rises just below an exposed rock where the current curled around it and toward the bank. I lofted a fairly long cast to this area and allowed the muggly to flutter down to the nook of the tiny eddy. Dave G. and Todd had just appeared on the concrete bridge above me, but I kept my focus on the recently delivered fly. Wham! A nice fish smashed the muggly caddis and the fight was on. Clearly this fish was hooked in the lip as it instantly made a strong upstream dash. I allowed my line to spin rapidly off the reel until the fish paused in its flight. I gained back some additional line, but then the silver bullet decided to make a second strong dash. The line screeched from my reel a second time, but inexplicably the rainbow reached some turbulent water upstream and made a sudden side move and snapped off the muggly. I rued another lost opportunity, and this one occurred with my friends as spectators on the bridge above.

I was now just below the bridge, and several fish rose sporadically in the squiggly current seam below the bridge supports. Todd and Dave G. saw them and attempted to direct my casts. I followed their guidance as best as I could, but after fifteen minutes of unproductive casting, I decided to yield to the fish and quit for the day. I did manage one very brief hook up during this time, but again the fish never made it to my net.

I landed seven very nice fish on Friday with all being rainbows except for one brown. The four nice fish that slurped my caddis imitations in the afternoon really salvaged my day, as it was great fun to spend 1.5 hours casting to an array of rising fish. Unfortunately I should have easily recorded a double digit fish count, as I lost nearly as many fish as I landed. I cannot complain about the number of opportunities, but I do need to improve my ability to capitalize.

Eagle River – 07/09/2015

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: The Preserve in Edwards

Fish Landed: 11

Eagle River 07/09/2015 Photo Album

Having fished the Yampa River on three separate trips over the last two weeks of June and through the Fourth of July, I was ready to explore some new flowing water. The next most likely candidate was the Eagle River, a freestone river with its headwaters near Vail, CO. The DWR site indicated that the cubic feet per second were dropping nicely into the 700 – 1000 range. During the early summer of 2014 I experienced some very exciting fishing on the Eagle as the run off subsided yet remained high compared to normal summer levels.

My friend Dave Gaboury called and invited me to join him and Todd Grubin for a day on the Eagle on July 10. I accepted the invitation, but one day was not enough to satisfy my yearning for edge fishing. I made plans to pack my camping gear, drive to the Eagle on Wednesday morning and spend Wednesday and Thursday fishing while I used my campsite as my base of operations. On Friday I planned to join Todd and Dave G. for a day and then return to Denver Friday evening.

Unfortunately when I checked my weather app it showed rain all day Wednesday and throughout the night. I do not mind fishing in the rain, but sleeping in a tent in steady rain or thunderstorm conditions is not one of my favorite activities. I modified my plan to include only one night of camping, Thursday night, and then I called Todd to ask if he was interested in joining me on Thursday. Apparently when Dave G. called Todd to make final arrangements for Friday, Todd informed Dave of my intent to fish on Thursday, so Dave G. called me and graciously invited me to sleep at his Eagle Ranch house on Thursday.

The plan was in place, and I made the early morning drive to The Preserve in Edwards on Thursday where I met Dave G. and Todd. I actually made great time and pulled into the parking lot 30 minutes before our prearranged meeting time of 9:30. Over the past year Todd gained access to the private water below The Preserve, and he requested and received approval to fish there with two friends on July 9 . We left the parking lot and headed directly to the private water. Todd and Dave G. hiked farther down the river behind a gravel quarry, while I began my quest for run off trout in the braids that flowed around two small narrow islands. As we hiked through the tall grass to the river we stirred up dense clouds of hungry mosquitoes, so my first act before fishing was to douse my neck, hands and ears with insect repellent.

The area had indeed received quite a bit of rain on Wednesday which caused the flows to spike from the 750 cfs level back to the 900’s. This made fishing a bit challenging, but I flashed back to fishing at 900 cfs in 2014, and this gave me confidence that I could enjoy some success on Thursday July 9. The sky was overcast most of the day, but no additional rain fell on us.

Side Channel Fished in the Morning

To begin my quest for Eagle River trout I tied on a tan pool toy, beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph. Because of the high flows, I was tempted to configure a nymphing rig, but the small side channel ahead of me swayed the decision to dry/dropper. For the next two hours I worked the three fly combination through the seams where the side channels joined the main river as well as through the two side braids. I landed three brown trout in the twelve inch range in addition to one small six inch cutthroat trout. This probably represented the first cutthroat that I ever landed from the Eagle River. Two of the landed fish took the hares ear, and the other two snatched the salvation nymph.

Nice Early Brown Trout

Just before lunch I moved above the second island and began to work some very attractive side pockets along the bank. The pool toy was serving simply as an indicator, and I thought I saw a solitary golden stonefly, so I tried a yellow Letort hopper as a stonefly imitation. The dubbed body hopper does not support two beadheads very well, so I kept the salvation and removed the hares ear. This change did not pay off, as the Letort hopper simply provoked refusals and distracted the trout from any interest in the salvation.

After a 45 minute lunch we returned to The Preserve water, and I resumed fishing near my lunchtime quitting point. It was not long before I began to observe caddis tumbling and skating on the surface of the river, and this prompted some sporadic rises. I reacted to these observations by clipping off the hopper and salvation, and I knotted a solitary size 16 olive brown deer hair caddis to my line. This drew interest in the form of refusals, so I made another switch to a slightly larger olive brown caddis with a wing that extended beyond the body of the fly. This fly generated a decent momentary hook up, but then it also was ignored by the surface feeding trout.

Nose Included on This Shot

By now the hatch intensified, and many small caddis skittered across the surface, and I was frustrated that I was missing out on some fine dry fly action. Perhaps the body color was too dark? I replaced the olive brown caddis with a size 16 light gray deer hair caddis, and this produced the success I was afraid I would miss. Over the remainder of the afternoon I worked my way upstream along the right bank and cast the light gray caddis and landed an additional seven fish. Most the of the fish resulted from spotting rises, but some also reacted to prospecting casts to likely fish holding spots. I was disappointed with the size of the afternoon catch, as I landed one nice thirteen inch fighter, and a twelve inch brown, and the remainder were in the six to seven inch range. I suppose catching fish is better than not catching fish, but I would have liked more size.

Edge Water Fished at the Preserve

The caddis hatch waned by 3PM, so I experimented with a Charlie boy hopper with a bright green caddis pupa and light yellow caddis pupa. This combination did not produce, so I switched the bright green caddis for a beadhead hares ear, and this also failed to interest the resident trout. The wading was very arduous in the afternoon, as I was forced to carefully wade against some stiff current or exit the river and battle through thick brush and tree limbs. When I was catching fish, the trade off was beneficial, but now with the lack of results, I decided to return to the car at 3:15 ahead of our agreed upon 3:30 quitting time.

I am forced to admit that Thursday was a disappointment for me. Perhaps my expectations were too high, and eleven fish landed is certainly a worthwhile accomplishment. The positive experiences on the Yampa River may have spoiled me, and certainly the size of the Eagle River fish paled by comparison to the Yampa trout. Also my positive experience during the receding flows of 2014 provided another unfavorable comparison point to Thursday July 9. At least I had Friday to look forward to before returning to Denver.